pronounced WUL zee, Thomas Cardinal (1473?-1530), was an English statesman who served as
the principal adviser to King Henry VIII from 1514 to 1529. Wolsey was also a cardinal of
the Roman Catholic Church.
Wolsey was born at Ipswich, England, and graduated from Magdalen College at Oxford
University. In 1498, he was ordained a priest. He was made chaplain to the archbishop of
Canterbury in 1501, and chaplain to the English governor of Calais, a French city under
English control, in 1503. Wolsey's Oxford friends and his own driving ambition helped his
rapid rise to power. By 1507, he had become chaplain to King Henry VII. The king used
Wolsey in diplomatic missions. In 1509, Wolsey became dean (head clergyman) of Lincoln
After Henry VIII became king in 1509, he appointed Wolsey to his council. In 1513, Henry
made Wolsey responsible for organizing a military campaign against France. In 1514, Wolsey
was made bishop of Lincoln and then archbishop of York. Pope Leo X made him a cardinal in
1515. Wolsey loved display, power, and wealth. His income was many times larger than those
of England's greatest nobles, and he lived in royal splendor.
Cardinal Wolsey used his abilities as a statesman and administrator mainly in managing
foreign affairs. His foreign policy sought to settle disputes between the two major
European rivals, France and the Holy Roman Empire, a German-based empire that also
included Austria and parts of what are now Belgium, Italy, and the Netherlands. Wolsey
worked to maintain peace and increase England's prestige.
Wolsey's greed and ambition earned him many enemies. But he held Henry VIII's confidence
until he proved unable to persuade the pope to annul (declare invalid) Henry's marriage to
his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. The king wanted to marry Anne Boleyn, who was a lady
in Catherine's court. Wolsey's failure to obtain an annulment of the King's marriage
resulted in Henry dismissing him in 1529.
Wolsey's fall from a position of great influence was sudden and complete. He was stripped
of his property and most of his offices, remaining only archbishop of York. In 1530, he
was accused of treason and ordered to London. On his journey to the capital, Wolsey fell
ill and died.
Contributor: Richard L. Greaves, Ph.D., Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Prof. of
History and Courtesy Prof. of Religion, Florida State Univ.